Shorthanded Sixers defeated by Vucevic, Magic

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Shorthanded Sixers defeated by Vucevic, Magic

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ORLANDO -- The Sixers were forced to suffer in more ways than one on Wednesday night against the Orlando Magic.

Not only were they unable to pull off a comeback in a 105-94 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), they also had to watch themselves lose at the hands of former Sixer Nikola Vucevic.

Vucevic make shot after shot and grab rebound after rebound as a painful reminder of potential that is now being achieved for another team. The 16th overall selection by the Sixers in 2011, who later was dealt to the Magic in the Andrew Bynum trade, was a dominating presence in the first half.

The third-year Magic center made his first eight field goal attempts while recording 17 points and 10 rebounds by halftime. He finished the game with 21 points and 16 rebounds.

“Nik is a big body,” Thaddeus Young said. “He goes to the glass every time. He has good post work and he has a solid jumper where he is going to have to make guys play up on him. He will use his body to get past them and score layups. He’s definitely a good player.”

“When you look at their interior bigs, I think their percentage was 80 in the first half,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “We couldn’t guard them and we had to go to schemes. We had to go about different ways to give help to our bigs and it’s a problem. We want to try and improve our ability to guard one-on-one.”

Brown admits that the team’s difficulty defending the paint is a combination of the Sixers’ team design and still figuring out ways to guard better individually.

Nonetheless, Young, playing for the first time since missing three games for personal reasons, had a three-point play in the closing seconds of the first half to cut the Sixers’ deficit to five. They had trailed by as many as 15 in the half.

The Sixers clawed their way back in the second half and even cut the deficit to just two points in the fourth quarter. However, they allowed second overall pick Victor Oladipo (18 points) to drain a three-pointer with three minutes to go to push their deficit back to nine.

The Sixers couldn’t recover from that final body shot.

“I think we got it to two, hung around two. We just couldn’t get over the top,” Brown said. “A few untimely things and Oladipo’s three especially put the game away.”

While the Sixers were dejected from not getting the win, they were certainly glad to have Young. The forward looked like he didn’t miss any action at all. He scored 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench.

“It was clear right from the get-go that he had bounce and he had energy. He wanted to play and he was good.” Brown said. “He got 29 minutes, which is more than I would have guessed at the start of the game, but it is great to have him back.”

Young was clearly in attack mode throughout the game. He shot 9 of 15 from the field and attempted 11 free throws.

“I was trying to get myself in a rhythm early,” Young said. “I knew I was coming off the bench and that was one of the things when I was a sixth man, I would say to myself be aggressive early. So I went back into my sixth man role like when I played for coach [Douh] Collins, and it worked out pretty well tonight.”

Evan Turner flirted with a triple-double, scoring 17 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and handing out eight assists. Michael Carter-Williams had his fifth 20-point scoring output (23) in 11 appearances this season.

Spencer Hawes (knee) and Tony Wroten (back) both missed their second consecutive games with injuries.

The Sixers return to action on Friday when they host Jrue Holiday and the New Orleans Pelicans.

Jahlil Okafor's Duke network helping him through up-and-down season

Jahlil Okafor's Duke network helping him through up-and-down season

Jahlil Okafor’s second season in the NBA has been one of learning, marked by injuries, trade talks and DNPs. Throughout these shifting uncertainties, he's had a constant foundation: his fellow Duke players.

“It’s a brotherhood,” Okafor said. “We’re all friends, we’re all a family.”

From those who burst onto the scene to those who struggled to veterans who have seen it all, Okafor has a network of players who already have been through the ups and downs of the league. Even though Okafor competed for only one year at the college level, he got to know many of them while he was coming up the ranks in high school. He formed a stronger bond once he got to the pros.

“He always knows I’m one phone call away no matter what,” Kyrie Irving said. 

Okafor began his second year dealing with a knee injury that held him out most of preseason action. When he got back into the mix, the Sixers looked to determine his place in a logjammed frontcourt.

Minutes were more available at the five-spot when Nerlens Noel was sidelined for the first 23 games of the season. Once all four centers (including Richaun Holmes) were healthy, it was Noel who found himself the odd man out of the rotation. Then the Sixers tried experimenting with a “twin towers” starting lineup of Embiid and Okafor. That pairing didn’t pan out and roles changed.

The Sixers narrowed their roster to a 10-man rotation with Noel as the defensive leader in the second unit. Okafor, for the most part, got the start when Embiid did not play because of back-to-backs or injuries, and was a DNP otherwise.

That situation changed again when the Sixers sat Okafor recently for two games as he was involved in trade discussions. Okafor did not travel with the Sixers for their Feb. 13 contest in Charlotte and rejoined them in Boston for their Feb. 15 game when a deal did not transpire. 

Okafor has a long list of players he can ask about these trying scenarios.

“I get help from all those guys,” Okafor said. “I can look to any one of [them] for advice.”

Former Blue Devil Austin Rivers has been in Okafor’s situation when it comes to decreased playing time. The 2012 10th overall pick had troubles carving out a role early on with the Pelicans. He dealt with injuries and was hit with DNPs when the team added more guards to the mix. Now in his fifth season, he has established a spot on the Clippers. 

“It’s a good thing,” Rivers said of the challenges. “If you’re truly a good player and a competitor, it’ll breed maturity and a level of respect and hard work. It’s a humbling experience. It’s the best thing for you; it’s the best thing that happened to me. I went through struggles to come back a better player and person. I think it’s the same thing he’s doing now. He’ll appreciate it.”

Irving, formerly the first overall pick, didn’t struggle with his role with the Cavaliers. He was a focal point from the start and had become a three-time All-Star and NBA champion by the end of his fifth season. Because of this, Okafor looks to Irving for his knowledge of managing the spotlight.

“Guys have to go through what they go through just to build character, build whatever they need, that armor, to deal with what this NBA life entails. It comes with a lot,” Irving said. “It’s just patience. Despite what's going on in the outside world, you’ve got to remain calm and give everything you have to this game of basketball.”

Last season, Okafor established a mentor relationship with Elton Brand when the 17-year veteran signed with the Sixers in January of Okafor’s rookie year. Okafor still speaks with Brand, who became a player development consultant for the Sixers, on a weekly basis for guidance.

This season, he has another veteran Duke player in the locker room. Gerald Henderson got to know Okafor before they played together on the Sixers. Henderson was on campus completing his degree when Okafor was there ahead of his freshman season. The two spent time together then, and Henderson continues to look out for him now as a teammate.

“I was around him a lot, working out with the team, seeing how good of a kid he was,” Henderson said, also adding, “It’s a man’s league. It’s not like you’ve got to hold somebody’s hand through something. Jah’s a man in himself. But at the same time, I’m always checking on him, seeing how he’s doing, make sure he’s not down, make sure he’s still getting his work in and focusing on the right things.”

The trade deadline is two days away.

Whether Okafor remains in a Sixers jersey or puts on a new uniform, the one he wore in college always will be a part of his journey through the NBA.

“It’s bigger than basketball,” Okafor said. 

Reports: Pacers the latest team pursuing Jahlil Okafor

Reports: Pacers the latest team pursuing Jahlil Okafor

Another team has emerged in Jahlil Okafor trade talks: the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers are pursuing Okafor in an attempt to add help for Paul George, according to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, Jeff Goodman and Chris Haynes.

Indiana would make some sense for Okafor because of their style of play. The Pacers rank 25th in the NBA in fastbreak points per game. They're 25th in speed/distance traveled on offense. (The Sixers are first.) 

And Indiana is also in the top-third of the league in post touches and paint touches per game. 

Al Jefferson, a plodding post player Okafor is often compared to, averages 8.5 points for the Pacers this season and has played in every game.

What might the Pacers be willing to part with?

Thaddeus Young would be a solid return, but it's hard to see the Pacers doing that because it wouldn't make them a better team.

C.J. Miles? Probably not. The guy's an elite three-point shooter.

Forget about Myles Turner, one of the best young bigs in the NBA. 

A trade that might make sense for both teams would be Monta Ellis and a 2017 first-round pick for Okafor. (Before you continue reading, just know I'm not advocating for such a deal, just bringing up the possibility.)

Ellis has fallen out of favor in Indiana, playing six fewer minutes per game than he did the last two years. And as a 31-year-old, undersized two-guard who's long struggled from three-point range, he's not the most efficient player. He's also owed $23 million the next two seasons.

The Sixers could use additional scoring, but could do better than Ellis in free agency. This theoretical trade would really be about the first-round pick.

If the season ended today, the Pacers (29-28) would get the 18th overall pick. In that regard, the pick coming back wouldn't be much different than what they could have received from New Orleans before the DeMarcus Cousins trade.

The Sixers seemed unwilling to take on the contracts of Omer Asik or Alexis Ajinca in a trade with New Orleans because, even though they have salary cap flexibility, they don't want to limit their payroll for multiple future seasons. The same would likely be true with Ellis, even though he'd fill more of a need.

Okafor for Miles would be a good trade for the Sixers. So would Okafor for Young. But again, neither deal would make Indiana better in the short term, so it's probably a pipe dream.

The trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m.